Pubdate: Sun, 15 Nov 2015
Source: Sunday Herald, The (UK)
Copyright: 2015 Sunday Herald
Author: Andrew Learmonth


Scotland's war on drugs amounts to a war on the poor, according one 
of the country's leading authorities on substance abuse.

In a new paper, Dr Iain McPhee, from the University of the West of 
Scotland's Centre for Alcohol and Drugs Studies, calls the Misuse of 
Drugs Act 1971, "unjust, unfair and unworkable." McPhee was Project 
Leader of the National Drugs Helpline and the National AIDS Helpline, 
and has worked as a drugs specialist with social work and Scottish police.

According to the academic, tough key performance indicators to be met 
by officers from Police Scotland means that it is those living in 
areas of multiple deprivation, and seen as "problem drug users", who 
are targeted the most.

Separately, another drug policy expert, former Scottish Government 
adviser Mike McCarron, has said that if drugs were decriminalised 
savings could be made by Police Scotland and health and social work 
amounting to UKP1.5 billion.

Although, according to a recent survey, drug crime is the public's 
top priority for Police Scotland, McPhee says it is the enforcement 
of prohibition that "exacerbates drugs related crime" and says the 
way to deal with problematic drug use is through tackling social deprivation.

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The force's targets also explain why, since 2003, the arrest rate for 
drug dealers in Scotland is twice as high as it is in England and Wales.

McPhee told the Sunday Herald: "The war on drugs, one must conclude, 
is a war on the poor, as they are most affected by the performance 
indicators used by medicine, criminal justice social work, 
particularly child protection, and the police, enforcement and 
security agencies."

He continued: "Only a continual challenging of the moral framework on 
which drug policy rests can lead to reforms of our unjust, unfair and 
unworkable drug policies."

The academic said that the government was aware of this, and pointed 
to a report by John Birt commissioned by the Blair government. Birt's 
report pointing out the unfairness of the act was then suppressed.

"All the things that we attribute to drugs, like poor health, or poor 
housing or poverty, these are in many ways enduring structural 
factors caused by inequality and deprivation, and these people when 
they use drugs may go on to be problem drug users, but the key factor there is no relationship between the activity of the 
police, the availability of drugs and the number of drug users. And 
no matter what you spend on the misuse of drugs it can never achieve its aims."

In a survey of 31,000 people across Scotland conducted by the police 
to feed into their annual plan, 28 per cent of the public said they 
wanted the force's top priority to be tackling drug crime, ahead of 
road safety, violence and anti-social behaviour.

McPhee believes this is what has led to those in poorer areas being 
targeted. "I think it would be reasonable to conclude that they must 
be targeting scarce resources, which may or may not be 
intelligence-led, about where they think most activity which 
infringes the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 occurs," he said. "That would 
appear to be specific areas in Scotland that are also where there is 
most inequality and deprivation. I think it's no secret that by far 
the majority of people who are attending services for treatment and 
the majority of people who are incarcerated for infringements of the 
Misuse of Drugs Act invariably reside in areas characterised by 
deprivation, no matter what index is used."

A police source told the Sunday Herald that most drug arrests were in 
poorer areas because that was where the problem drug users and the gangs were.

"Nobody in the west end of Glasgow, or in the posh bits of Edinburgh 
or Aberdeen is bothered if their neighbour is doing a wee bit of 
coke. But see when you've got junkies breaking into folks houses and 
stealing bikes and stereos so they can get their next fit then of 
course we should be there. And by and large that's happening in 
poorer areas where there's higher dependency and you have the 
presence of gangs," the source said.

There is seemingly little appetite to devolve drug laws to Scotland. 
Although the Scottish Government's default position is to want all 
powers transferred to Westminster, in the White Paper for 
independence, there was only a passing mention made to independence 
allowing "decisions on drugs policy and drug classification to be 
taken together in a coherent way."

Politicians will be keenly aware of Police Scotland's survey results. 
There are few votes to be won from backing drug law reforms. Former 
Scottish Government adviser Mike McCarron, however, is hopeful that 
reform could be on the cards.

"I don't see the Westminster Government either now or in the 
foreseeable future adopting significant change of direction in drug 
policy, so if drug policy is not fully devolved then a very 'strong 
voice' of Scottish MPs will be needed at Westminster to increase harm 
prevention and service effectiveness within a significant change of 
policy direction."

McCarron, who works with Transform Drug Policy Scotland, believes 
decriminalisation and taxation and regulation of drugs could see the 
costs to Scotland of drugs harm reduced by as much UKP1.5 billion.

"This might include, regarding the UKP600 million spent on police and 
prisons, potentially several hundreds of millions pounds saved or 
redeployed for other policing needs and further tens of millions 
raised in tax for investments.

"So we should scrutinise every detail of the the estimated UKP3.5 
billion socio-economic costs for potential savings and tax gains, 
comparing prohibition with regulation. Savings and taxes could fund a 
greater number of services to meet Scotland's very high needs and 
also improve the quality of services."

Scotland does have a problem with drugs. And it is worse here than it 
is in the rest of the UK. According to the UN's World Drugs Report, 
Scotland has a greater per-head use of heroin, ecstasy and cocaine 
than almost any other country in the world.

David Liddell Director of Scottish Drugs Forum said it's difficult to 
quantify exactly how many drugs are in Scotland and how many people 
are using them.

"The nature of an illegal trade is that you would only ever have 
fairly crude estimates. However, from the available statistics, a 
troubling picture emerges." Share article

Liddell says that latest figures from the government show 6.2 per 
cent of adults reported using a drug in the last year including 0.5% 
who had taken new drugs or legal highs. A quarter of those who used 
drugs said they "felt dependent".

"The estimated number of individuals with problem drug use in 
Scotland is 59,500 - 1.68 per cent of the population - 2.43 per cent 
of all males and 0.96% of all females resident in Scotland. In this 
context, problem drug use is defined very narrowly in terms of the 
use of heroin and benzodiazepines such as diazepam. Our fatal drugs 
overdose figures are very high - far higher than in England, for 
example - and amongst the highest in Europe which in part merely 
reflects the high levels of problem drug use, in particular heroin use."
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